A “courteous, good-natured and calm” Texan heart, global reach... what could be better? Not least work variety 'nor tons' of responsibility, and a modern US HQ that 'rose' high and is 'full' of 'brightness'.
“WE'RE on every single continent except Antarctica,” Norton Rose Fulbright's US managing partner Linda Addison reminds us proudly, “and that's only because our clients haven't expressed that need yet.” It's true: across all the major world capitals and business hubs there are over 50 offices with the NRF welcome mat outside their door. And each of these offices is pulling its weight, says Chambers Global, which puts the firm at seventh place in its 'Global Top 30' ranking.
Despite its huge size and expansion, current associates were keen to tell us about the firm's “reputation for being family-friendly and for attracting salt-of-the-earth people, who aren't super buttoned-up.” One mentioned that “disinterested recommendations from law school professors spoke volumes about the firm,” while a diverse attorney “appreciated they pair you up with a diverse mentor during summer, which was encouraging and meant the experience wasn't alienating.” Size doesn't have to mean impersonal, in other words.
In Texas, Chambers USA ranks Norton Rose Fulbright for areas including antitrust, bankruptcy & restructuring, healthcare, intellectual property, and labor & employment. Nationally, the firm wins plaudits for (among others) energy projects of all description, corporate/M&A, general litigation, product liability, retail, tax and aviation finance.
Norton Rose Fulbright formed in 2013 when the UK's ancient Norton Rose merged with Texas-based Fulbright & Jaworski. The firm's global headquarters are in London, and its biggest US office is in Houston high up in the "very modern" Fulbright Tower where "we all have window offices and can see views for miles and miles around."
Just over 60 junior associates on our list of interviewees were spread across as many as 21 practice areas. The corporate, M&A and securities group was the most populated with 12 novices. Before the summer program begins, prospective participants receive a form to indicate which types of work they'd like to experience. Some sources had used this as an opportunity “to narrow down the broad umbrella of litigation.” Typically, associates experience two rotations. “I wasn't sure between transactional and litigation and they let me try both,” one recalled. “At the end, you apply to your preferred department and I've never heard about anyone not getting what they wanted. They also show flexibility, though, and a few people changed their mind and switched.”
“You might call our assignment system a managed market economy, whereby you get work by chasing it up yourself, but at the same time partners keep constant track of how busy you are.” In offices other than Houston, these systems might be slightly different; in Dallas for example “the summer allows for more than just two rotations.”
“The responsibility levels are really high, sometimes it's too much!”
All Houstonite corporate sources agreed that “the responsibility levels are really high, sometimes it's too much!” Examples of this substantive work include “pretty much running deals worth up to $50 million, handling major drafting and even closing deals.” One recalled “closing a deal with a fourth-year on the other side who couldn't believe I was a first-year. The firm helps you grow up, and provides you with skills such as dealing with clients, which will come in handy if, say, you then decide to go in-house.” Make no mistake though, at the very beginning, corporate newbies did get their fair share of “due diligence, proofing, checklists and research, but it evolves and changes every month toward distinctly mid-level tasks.”
Aside from corporate, associates could also be found in areas including IP transactions and patent prosecution; other strands of IP; straight finance as well as financial institutions and insurance; and regulations, investigations, securities and compliance. There are various groups dedicated to the energy sector, such as energy and infrastructure, energy transactions, and power and alternative energy. Certain offices are best known for specific expertise, like Dallas with its litigation know-how. Insiders proudly observed that since the combination “we've worked across offices a lot more, both nationally and internationally.”
Training & Development
“One of the most wonderful things the firm does is a program called 'shadowing,' which allows first, second and third-years to tag along to meetings or events juniors wouldn't normally see. It's billable.” This is in addition to the New Lawyer Academy as part of “a full training program that feels a bit like law school. As a result of the combination, we can take advantage of Norton Rose's well established training program called International Academies 1-5. One and two happen when you first start, and include the chance to do a mock client pitch. It shows they're investing in us, and it's fun!” Senior associates attend the more advanced 'academies.'
Furthermore, litigation associates get “put up in a swanky hotel for a week, during which we go through a whole mock trial, with seasoned partners as judges. I didn't do this at law school so it was eye-opening.” Corporate animals aren't left high and dry, with “two hours a week for six weeks of formal M&A school when you start the second year, as well as monthly training with presentations.”
“It shows they're investing in us, and it's fun!”
As is frequently the case, interviewees found the formal review system to be “fairly useful, but only in conjunction with frequent, timely and constructive on-the-job feedback.” Once a year, associates get a sit-down with their head of practice and a partner from the associate committee, who read out feedback from partners.
Along similar lines, insiders found that although a formal mentoring scheme is available, “you can use it to the degree you want, and usually informal mentoring relationships arise in summer anyway. Mentoring in all its forms is very useful at the firm.”
Hours and Culture
Most sources hadn't felt the need to turn to mentors out of extreme stress, however, which they felt the firm's infrastructure did a good job of preventing. Juniors appreciated that during their first year there's no billable hours requirement: “It's to help you focus on learning rather than hours, and they're not just saying that.” When first-years bloom into second-years, a target of 2,000 hours kicks in, on which hangs standard bonus eligibility. “It's achievable,” most agreed, although some in more specialist practice areas commented that “it's more subject to the needs of larger groups, so it's not always easy.” Everyone agreed that “you don't get in hot water here if you don't achieve that number." There are also discretionary bonuses. "People are understanding.”
“It's an organization that is clearly trying to correct the reasons why women leave the law.”
“Family friendly” was a phrase that came up again and again in our interviews, corroborated by observations regarding “the many women who work here who have multiple children. It's an organization that is clearly trying to correct the reasons why women leave the law.” Insiders were also keen to point out that the firm feels “relaxed but business-like, whereby some of us wear suits and everyone is very professional, but it's not a quiet place, it's noisy, and everyone goes into each other's offices instead of calling.”
Many felt sure the atmosphere was down to Fulbright & Jaworksi's southern identity, which they felt had been “retained” and had “integrated well with the Norton Rose culture.” Being “courteous, good-natured and calm is our common thread; it's such a welcoming environment, which makes people want to invest back into the firm.” Regular events like “floor lunches, happy hours, wine tastings, poker nights, fundraising events, rodeos, beer festivals, and dorky things like the Texas Renaissance Festival” were greatly appreciated though “never compulsory.” In Dallas, a source shared their “favorite thing about working here: people walk down the corridor stopping by each office to ask who wants to go for lunch, so no one has to eat by themselves. We call it the lunch train!”
“The majority is still white and male, especially in the partnership.”
While the individual experiences of diverse sources were characterized by positivity –“it's great to come to work and see faces that look like mine” – insiders also readily conceded that “the majority is still white and male, especially in the partnership.” Still, everyone made the point of singing the praises of NRF's “constant push” to improve in this area, citing “monthly firmwide meetings, a goal of making the partnership 30% female by 2020, and even extra bonuses for diversity efforts.” A Dallas rookie was impressed by “a woman who was made partner while on maternity leave.”
Interviewees responded positively when quizzed on the firm's commitment to pro bono, listing NRF's “strong passion and commitment to this type of work” as a key draw. Litigators were especially proud of their experiences. “I've done a divorce case, and a death penalty appeal,” said one, while another shared: “I went to trial. It's been my most rewarding case so far. When I won, the partners sent an email out to the entire practice as if I'd won for a paying client.” Transactional lawyers found it “a bit harder to translate pro bono to M&A but did help form entities for not-for-profits, and became part of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers program the firm has affiliations with.” 100 hours of pro bono can be counted toward the 2,000 target.
“My most rewarding case so far.”
Pro bono hours
Hiring partner Andrew Price sheds some light on how applicants can make the cut: Norton Rose Fulbright “hired consultants to look at high performers at our firm and help us identify the distinguishing attributes common to those individuals, which we then use to recruit associates. Those attributes are: being committed to achieve, displaying entrepreneurship and leadership, as well as strong academics and communication skills.” Following OCIs, shortlisted candidates are flown to their desired office where they undergo a day of interviews, culminating with a presentation by lawyers at the office and a dinner or other networking event. From that, summer offers are made. Check out our Bonus Features for more info on getting into NRF.
Houston is the firm's biggest US office by headcount, and houses far more junior associates than any other base. “The firm takes over the top dozen floors of the Fulbright Tower, and you can see for miles and miles from up there. All partners and associates have their own window offices. We have soda fountains, nice coffee machines and loads of restaurants in the neighboring area.” One even whispered that “the fact that the firm has naming rights over the tower gives me a great feeling as I walk through the door each day.” Dallas got a new space in March: like Houston, “it's all white and very bright and airy.”
"You can see for miles and miles from up there."
Austin, New York and DC are the next three most junior associate-heavy offices, followed by San Antonio, Denver, LA, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, which claim only one or two each.
Strategy & Future
We asked managing partner Linda Addison where she sees the firm in the near-ish future: "As global markets become more regulated, we expect to see increasing demand from clients for regulation and investigations advice. When you combine that with increasing global market connectivity, that will result in more cross border activity. We are, and will be, well-positioned to meet this demand.” With its wings firmly spread across the globe, what major jurisdictions are left without the Norton Rose Fulbright flag? “We are not yet in Mexico,” Addison admits, “but we expect to be there in the not too distant future.”
Regarding the future of its individual lawyers, she agrees with sources who felt they were being groomed to become “more specialist than generalist.” Addison beams: “Absolutely. That's what our clients expect and need. They want lawyers who have a deep knowledge of their industry. To provide the highest level of legal services, we must have specialists, not generalists.”
Interview with managing partner Linda Addison
Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
Linda Addison: We have continued to exhibit our commitment to key industry sectors with strategic additions of lateral partners in energy transactions, life sciences and health care, financial institutions, which includes data privacy, and transport. We're attracting very accomplished lawyers who see the advantage of joining a firm with a global platform and clients like ours.
We have dramatically increased our business opportunities by being a true global firm: we're on every single continent except Antarctica, and that's only because our clients haven't expressed that need yet. We continue to connect our clients with our global counterparts to meet their legal needs, irrespective of where they arise.
We were also named to several global panels of leading global companies, and we're now on over 40.
CA: How did the merger affect your job description when you took over as managing partner?
LA: It affected it in a very positive way: I'm head of the US region, which is part of a global law firm well-integrated along our six key industry lines, so it was seamless to our clients. It is wonderful to be able to collaborate on a global basis with other leaders, to build and grow our global firm to service global clients.
CA: Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices or expand around the world?
LA: We really have an excellent geography, we are not yet in Mexico, but we expect to be there in the not too distant future.
CA: Given that our readers won't be joining your firm for another couple of years, what’s the general strategy going forward, what do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years?
LA: In the not too distant future, there will be ten to fifteen major global law firms, with the best lawyers working on the most important legal matters. We plan to be among those global leaders. That's where the market place is moving, and we've pursued a strategy of global expansion over the past decade.
As global markets become more regulated, we expect to see increasing demand from clients for regulation and investigations advice. When you combine that with increasing global market connectivity, that will result in more cross border activity. We are, and will be, well-positioned to meet this demand.
CA: What are the hot practice areas right now? Which are growing? Which are shrinking?
LA: Business is thriving, and we regularly review our global business and strategic priorities to identify opportunities for growth. One of these opportunities has been data privacy and it's currently a hot practice area. The really big one is our risk advisory practice. Cross-border clients need a firm to advise on regulatory and risk issues across jurisdictions, and we're doing especially well in that regard.
CA: Define the firm’s character or culture. How do you promote it?
LA: We have a very collaborative, considerate culture of sharing: we share relationships and credit for the work we do, and we are inclusive in a lot of different ways. We're 6% ahead of the industry average for the number of female equity partners we have. We have set a target to have a 30% female partnership by 2020, so we're excited about that.
CA: What does the firm do to deserve its reputation as “family-friendly?”
LA: We have a very enlightened leave policy and a flexible work policy. This isn't just childcare, it's also for those who might have sick spouses or elderly parents. We like people to build careers here over a lifetime, and we recognize that over that lifetime you'll have different needs at different times.
CA: What's the number one thing you can offer associates and what's the number one thing you expect from them?
LA: We expect first-rate legal work. We hire the best and brightest and expect them to perform at a high level.
We offer abundant opportunities to develop talent and skills and to build reputations and relationships. We try to develop our people to become partners here and to establish long-lasting relationships with clients. If young lawyers want to leave and go in house or into public service, then we help them.
Practicing law at a global firm can be extremely rewarding. It's not just a job, it's a commitment, and our associates can experience a great level of satisfaction and fulfillment, and they can go very very far.
CA: How do you communicate with associates and keep abreast of what they're thinking?
LA: When I go to our offices, I don't just meet with partners. I meet with all lawyers and staff. I tell them what's going on at the firm, and I answer their questions. We also have partners and staff who, in a variety of roles, communicate with associates.
CA: Is it true that you're trying to move away from breeding generalist lawyers, and trying instead to develop people's specialties?
LA: Absolutely. That's what our clients expect and need. They want lawyers who have a deep knowledge of their industry. To provide the highest level of legal services, we must have specialists, not generalists.
Norton Rose Fulbright
- Head Office: N/A
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 41
- Worldwide revenue: $1,813,920,831
- Partners (US): 289
- Associates (US): 304
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: varies by market ($3077 in CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
- 2Ls: varies by market ($3077 in CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
- Post 3Ls: varies by market ($3077 in CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
- 1Ls hired? Varies by market
- Split summers offered? Varies by market
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016 52 2Ls; 1Ls TBD
- Offers/acceptances 2015 47/57 associate offers; 33/47 accepted; 4 pending judicial clerkships
Main areas of work
Antitrust and competition; banking and finance; corporate, M&A and securities; dispute resolution and litigation; employment and labor; financial restructuring and insolvency; intellectual property; real estate; regulations and investigations; tax
Norton Rose Fulbright is a global law firm. We provide the world’s pre-eminent corporations and financial institutions with a full business law service. We have more than 3800 lawyers and other legal staff based in more than 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Recognized for our industry focus, we are strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare.
• Number of 1st year associates: 51
• Number of 2nd year associates: 28
• Associate salaries: 1st year: varies by market-$180,000 (CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
• 2nd year: varies by market
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Baylor, Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Houston, Howard, Loyola (CA), NYU, Penn, South Texas, Southern Methodist, St. Mary’s, Texas, Texas Southern, UC-Irvine, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Washington University. Job fairs include Lavender Law, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, and Sunbelt Minority Recruitment Program
Summer associate profile:
We recruit motivated, energetic and personable individuals with whom we will enjoy practicing law. We hire with a long-term view. Candidates should have excellent academic qualifications and demonstrate initiative.
Summer program components:
Essential to the long-term success of Norton Rose Fulbright, our summer associate program is the primary source of new legal talent. Our summer associates develop their skills by applying their education to active practice. From proofreading and drafting documents to carrying out legal research and attending meetings, our summer associates work on projects that sharpen their key legal skills. Summer associates participate in significant legal activities, such as client meetings, board meetings, depositions and court appearances. Summer associates also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of legal and business skills workshops and presentations. We offer team building and social activities that are unique to each of the cities in which we work and live. Our lawyers work hard, but they also enjoy spending time with one another and having fun. Summer associates and their families will find a wide selection of sports, cultural, artistic and other activities designed to appeal to a variety of interests.